Landscape genomics, climate change, and adaptation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Animal and Plant Sciences


Anthropogenic changes are accelerating the rate at which our environment is changing. In particular, temperature and rainfall patterns are being altered at an alarming pace. Such rapid change threatens biodiversity as organisms struggle to cope with stressful environments, for example, increased temperature. There are limited options for how an organism can respond to a changing environment, but of particular importance will be evolutionary solutions, such as adaptation. Adaptations occur at the genetic level but the nature of the genetic alterations in response to climate change is unclear. Moreover, much understanding about genetic changes is based on laboratory studies, and recent research has suggested that laboratory results do not always translate to how wild populations respond. Thus, to understand how biodiversity will be impacted by changing environments, we critically need information about how natural populations may adapt to environmental changes and the genetic causes of such adaptation. Here we aim to identify adaptive genetic responses to natural temperature changes in wild populations of the fruit fly, Drosophila subobscura. We will establish outdoor enclosures of flies along a temperature gradient at six sites from Valencia, Spain to Uppsala, Sweden. At two stressful temperatures, hot and cold, we will sample males from these captive populations and measure what genes are 'turned up' or 'turned down' in response to these temperatures. We can then compare populations for differences in these genes. We predict that populations in the north will be more cold adapted than those in the south and that therefore the genes that are changed in response to hot and cold stress will be different. Because we will measure these genes using technology that identifies their written code, we can also test whether the code itself differs between populations. Natural selection is thought to result in such coding changes so we will test that prediction here. Finally, we will look for the locations on the genome where these genes are changed. There are areas of the genome which are resistant to random alterations of where a gene is located on a chromosome. Such areas are thought to be important in sheltering genes that provide adaptation to environmental conditions. We will also test that prediction. This triad of genetic responses has neither been examined in one system before, nor in wild populations. Thus, this work will give us unprecedented information on the genetic changes that occur in response to temperature in natural populations. Since the work asks about such changes across a landscape, the research will provide valuable background to a large number of conservation groups and NGOs that have particular interests in land development and species management strategies. Moreover, our work will provide a link between two divisive public issues - climate change and evolution - that can be used to address the nature of science and scientific evidence.


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Description We identified a continental level tradeoff in gene expression investment in metabolic processes vs reproductive processes, with southern populations investing more in reproduction and northern populations investing more in metabolism. We have also found that southern populations are more resistant to sublethal thermal affects on fertility compared to northern populations; effects that are particularly manifest when thermal stress is administered during the juvenile stage.
Exploitation Route We will prepare another grant proposal to follow up on some of the intriguing patterns we have found.
Sectors Environment

Description A three day externally provided training course for public engagement of science A three day workshop which prepared the PI for public engagement of the funded science. This was done in lieu of the NERC sponsored one because the attended workshop was in Sheffield, thus nonresidential. Participation in Discovery Night. Media exposure for both online news websites and the Today radio programme for work related to the grant Participation in Sheffield Festival of Science & Engineering.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal

Title Drosophila subobscura de novo transcriptome 
Description We provided transcriptomic data to generate the first transcriptome for Drosophila subobscura 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Unknown 
Description Interview on the Today programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviewed on the Today programme following the press release of Porcelli et al 2017 JEB.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Press release and subsequent media engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Porcelli et al 2017 JEB was written up as a press release, and was picked up as a news article for several online news outlets, including the BBC news site, where it was on the front of the top story page.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Researchers Night 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discover our research for yourself

Friday 28 September 2012, 6-9pm

Have you ever wondered about the research that goes on at the University of Sheffield? On the evening of Friday 28 September we open our doors to the public.

There will be talks, demonstrations and hands on activities for visitors of all ages. Everyone is welcome and the event is free.

Researchers' Night, 28 September 2012

Breath of Life: New Findings in Animal and Plant Sciences

Some of Animal and Plant Sciences' most fascinating and inspirational speakers, including Prof. Tim Birkhead and Dr Rhonda Snook, will be telling us about so
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012